The Puntilla Santa Elena Reserve for Faunal Production is located in the province of Santa Elena, Salinas county, and covers a total of 47,447 hectares, of which 173 are terrestrial and the rest belonging to marine habitats.
We started by compiling ecological information in subtidal rocky habitats within the MPA and its zone of influence. Using underwater visual census methods, the richness and abundance of species was registered for fishes, invertebrates, and benthic communities associated with rocky habitats, as well as general aspects of state of conservation.
We registered 86 fish species, of which 16 were new observations for the Easter Pacific. The most representative fish groups were viejas, roncadores damiselas and the group of the cabrillas, meros and guatos. 22 species of mobile macroinvertebrates were registered, most commonly species of sea star, clam, snail, octopus, crab, and lobster. There was a high diversity of sessile organisms (75 species between algae and invertebrates), with a predominance of corals and gorgonians. It is worth noting that gorgonians in this zone form widespread dense underwater forests, forming a unique habitat in the Eastern Pacific.
The preliminary abundance data, both for fish and mobile macroinvertebrate species, suggests that historically, the Puntilla Santa Elena has received strong fishing pressures. In all censused areas, the abundances and average sizes of commercial fishes and invertebrates were low. This information suggests that the marine resources are in a state of over-exploitation and that recuperation of these populations will require no-impact areas within the Santa Elena MPA and the creation of management policies that will help to protect the available resources.
Seafloor mapping of the MPA was done by boat transects using a single beam sonar device that collected georeferenced information about the subtidal benthic cover down to a depth of 50 m. The predominant seafloor type in the area is a mixed type (hard substrate interspersed with sandy and muddy bottom), which covers a total of 38% of the mapped area, followed by sandy bottom (37%), and finally a rocky-sandy bottom, which represents 26% of the total.
It is worth noting the biological importance of the area in terms of the presence of unique habitats and species with high potential for sport fishing and scuba diving. This project provides valuable baseline information, both biological and cartographic, that can now be used for the elaboration of a management and zoning plan for the Puntilla Santa Elena Reserve for Faunal Production.